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The Authority Of Bishops… Can A Catholic Resist A Wrong Teaching Of His Bishop?

December 9, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM

Part 3

In the two previous articles we have learned from great Catholic theologians that a layman can resist a wrong decision of a bishop and even of the Bishop of Rome — the Pope.
But — and this “but” is very important — wouldn’t such a resistance go against the teaching on papal infallibility? This is a question that concerns many a faithful Catholic today.
If we apply the teachings of those great theologians to our days, the conclusion is very grave and very simple: Catholics who truly love the Church have the right and the duty to resist any teaching, law, norm, or command coming from any ecclesiastical authority, be he a priest, bishop, cardinal, or even the Pope, if it is evidently harmful to faith and morals.
St. Paul did that, St. Athanasius did that, St. Catherine of Siena did that. But such a resistance was always courteous and charitable, and in so doing a Catholic is not judging the authority, because to resist a wrong command it is not to judge, it is to obey God rather than men.
Here it is important to recall the official Church teaching on papal infallibility. According to the dogmatic definitions of the First Vatican Council, the Pope is infallible (that is, when we must blindly accept his teaching because it is protected by the promise of Our Lord Jesus Christ) when he teaches on an article of faith and/or morals, in an ex cathedra manner.
This is the most important principle: First of all, the teaching must be on faith and morals. The Holy Father’s opinions on the environment, protection of endangered species, art, sports, political decisions of foreign governments, and the like do not belong to the field of faith and morals. Therefore, they can never be classified as infallible teachings. Sometimes they are simply the Pope’s opinions, or his teachings are relevant to his diocese (Rome), or the counsels are applicable to a certain kind of people or a certain country.
So, faith and morals must be the subject of the papal teaching. Now let us take a look at the manner in which he issues the teaching.
Ex cathedra literally simply means “From the Chair” (of Peter). It does not mean that the Pope must be sitting on a particular chair when he speaks, a chair which is traditionally attributed to the one used by St. Peter when he lived in Antioch or Rome. Not at all. Ex cathedra simply means that he is speaking from his position of authority over the whole Christian world, as the Vicar of Christ on Earth.
This chair, or throne of authority, was already in existence in Isaias 22 regarding the throne of the chief steward of the Kingdom of David, where the chief steward held the keys of the kingdom and governed the people in the name of the King. In the New Testament, that throne was known as the “Chair of Moses,” which Jesus Himself mentioned in St. Matthew 23, from which the Pharisees taught the people. Jesus told the people to obey what they said but not to do as they did.
So, for the teachings issued from the throne of Authority (the Chair of Peter) to be infallible, three conditions are necessary:
The Pope must make use of His Supreme Apostolic Authority as Vicar of Christ;
He must address the whole Catholic world;
He must show his will to define a teaching, clarify a doubt, or solve a controversy.
In more detail: The Supreme Authority as Vicar of Christ comes from the authority given to St. Peter in St. Matthew 16: “Thou art Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatsoever you bind on earth, will be bound in heaven, and whatsoever you lose on earth, will be loosed in heaven.”
The Pope must address the whole Catholic world, from Canada to Argentina, from Mexico to Japan, and from India to New Zealand — everywhere that there are Catholics. If he addresses the people gathered in St. Peter’s Square for the angelus, or in a letter to the bishops of a specific country, or if he addresses any public that is not the whole Catholic world, his teaching is per se not infallible.
The third condition is also of utmost importance. The Pope must make clear his intention to define a doctrine, to clarify a doubt, to solve a controversy, in short to be specific regarding a specific teaching — forgive the redundancy. Witness when Paul VI taught in Humanae Vitae that artificial contraception is sinful.
Moreover, when the Pope repeats an existing teaching, which has been part of Church doctrine and practice for centuries, it acquires the gift of infallibility, since the Holy Spirit would not allow the Church to preach a wrong doctrine for centuries — and the condemnation of contraception comes from the very beginning of the Church. St. Augustine in the fourth century is very clear about it.
The same principle applies to the exclusive ordination of men to the priesthood. When Pope John Paul II wrote Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, he specifically taught that priesthood is exclusively to be given to males. This has been a continuous teaching of the Church since the very beginning with the Apostolic College, but also because John Paul II made use of the three conditions very specifically.

Questions Remain

This being said, if we apply these conditions to Amoris Laetitia, it is evident that the apostolic letter of Pope Francis does not carry the seal of infallibility. Why? Because….
The third condition is evidently missing, since his teaching is very ambiguous to say the least, and for a teaching to be infallible, it is necessary that the Pope explicitly define a truth to be believed or a moral teaching to be observed without ambiguity.
The questions asked by the four cardinals (the famous dubia) in which they asked the Holy Father to be specific and clarify the confusion brought about by chapter 8 of Amoris Laetitia, to this day have not been answered.
The teachings of the Church must be clear for all to see, understand, and accept. If there is ambiguity in the teaching, confusion is brought about, and different people interpret it in different ways, breaking the unity of faith and/or morals that must be the characteristic of those who belong to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
The Wanderer is proud to contribute to the ongoing education of Catholics in our Holy Faith.
Next article: Can a Catholic resist the teaching of Humanae Vitae without committing a sin?

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(Raymond de Souza, KM, is a Knight of the Sovereign and Military Order of Malta; a delegate for International Missions for Human Life International [HLI]; and an EWTN program host. Website: www. RaymonddeSouza.com.)

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Fr. James Schall passed away today. A Jesuit priest & Georgetown professor, he served as mentor & model to a numberless many (including me). With penetrating insight & wit, he pointed us to Christ & those great Catholic minds we mustn't forget.

Fr. Schall, requiescat in pace.

Please pray for Raymond DeSousa today, who is a weekly Wanderer columnist who is undergoing serious surgery today.

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